Federal Judge Blocks Attempt By Oath Keepers To Evade Justice

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This week, federal Judge Amit Mehta denied a push by most of the Oath Keepers-tied individuals involved in a January 6 seditious conspiracy case to move the trial from its scheduled starting point in late September.

The defendants’ side pointed to issues including publicity associated with the work of the House committee investigating the Capitol riot and claimed problems with accessing evidence relevant to the case. Public attention on the work of the riot panel was also cited by longtime Trump goon Steve Bannon in his attempts to get his recent trial on contempt of Congress allegations delayed, but Bannon was also unsuccessful — and he was later found guilty by a jury of the charges in connection to his refusal to comply with the riot committee. At present, nine people involved in the Oath Keepers — a violent, far-right group — are slated to go on trial for seditious conspiracy allegations next month. Jury selection is scheduled to begin September 26 — the Oath Keepers wanted the trial delayed until next year.

Mehta pointed to a few issues weighing against the push by the Oath Keepers, including the potential impacts on the court’s overall schedule if their requests were granted. “I can’t move this trial and I’m not going to move this trial,” the judge said about that issue. “It would quite literally wreak havoc for this court’s docket.” More broadly, the judge also cast doubt on the idea that attention on the riot committee would make finding appropriately unbiased jurors impossible. “We are not going to avoid that publicity by moving this trial for a few months,” Mehta remarked of the riot panel. “I don’t know what they’re going to do and when they’re going to do it. This is a court of law. We cannot wait on the legislative process to move forward.”

Amid questioning from Mehta about the Justice Department’s changing stance on the timing of bringing seditious conspiracy claims related to the Capitol riot to trial, prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy indicated the department felt more unsure about the course of the Jan. 6 panel’s work in comparison to the earlier point when prosecutors went along with delaying the seditious conspiracy trial for members of the far-right group called the Proud Boys. The riot panel’s probe is changing to meet the evidence as time goes on: committee investigators already made changes to public hearing plans, and in terms of ideas for how they’ll later wrap up, they’re now focusing on an eventual final report instead of also including an interim report summarizing key findings.

Mehta said he would reexamine the issue of a potential delay for the Oath Keepers trial if the riot panel releases testimony transcripts related to the defendants and their charges soon before the trial starts. Presumably, a guilty verdict for some or all of those on trial would lead to the Justice Department seeking relatively lengthy prison terms. With Texas rioter Guy Reffitt, who carried a gun while at the Capitol, prosecutors unsuccessfully pursued a 15-year prison sentence. (He got a little over seven years.)

Image: Tyler Merbler/ Creative Commons